“What I learned from Video Games” By ‘Student X’

As I  mentioned in my previous post about unleashing a student’s inner super hero,  I work with a gifted student in high school who has been failed by the school system. Like many teen boys, he is very into video games. As adults, we often tell students that video games are useless in real life. After many long conversations with Student X, I realized that teachers should not dismiss them so quickly and instead, we should figure out how to use this to our advantage.

I understand where teachers are coming from as well. “Life isn’t all about video games. Not everything in the classroom can be fun and stimulating all the time.” I know how much time goes into planning lessons and it’s just not feasible to turn class into a video game.

So to start, there are a few things we need to recognize first. First, video games aren’t just about escaping reality and responsibility (although the fact that so many students feel they need to do this is a clear sign that education is not meaningful or relevant enough to these students).  These games create communities of like-minded individuals who work together to solve a problem (or defeat a Boss).  Here is how these communities helped Student X.

A bit of background:

  • Student X’s first played a game called “Defense of the Ancients” or “DOTA”.
  • Next was League of Legends
  • Third, was Overwatch
  • Some of these games are Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), also known as action real-time strategy (ARTS), in which a player controls a single character in a team who compete versus another team of players. Player characters typically have various abilities and advantages that improve over the course of a game and that contribute to a team’s overall strategy.

This following section was written by Student X

r892440_8977197Before DOTA

  • Little care was put into thinking before acting
  • Insistent on believing that any and all of mine own personal faults were caused entirely by other people and could only be fixed by other people
  • Under the belief that there was no human being capable of comparing to myself.
  • Working with troublesome people often ended in a very petty shouting match that often yielded nothing positive or useful

After DOTA 

  • Some semblance of humility was acquired as a result of the repeated, merciless failure I was previously presented with as the fruit of my actions
  • Arguments became significantly less common with me
  • A passable understanding of other people and what went on in their minds was attained
  • I also simply learned the game’s mechanics which made it much easier to adapt to similar circumstances in real life (to fully explain this I fear I would have to explain the concept of the MOBA genre of games)

After Overwatch/During League

  • maxresdefaultBecame quite clear to me that most all of my faults are the result of my own doing.
  • My partaking in arguments went from being uncommon to rare, as they were very commonly deemed by me to be pointless.
  • Ability to work with a team (while it was considered to me as a last resort) was much greater than ever it had been in the past.
  • This was also the first game I had ever achieved a significantly high rank in as my career high was amongst the top 8% of players. This was a clear indication of both my eye for strategy and my competence coming together.

Now (After League of Legends)

gamebox(Perhaps “Now” was a better header for this section but I figured “After League” would be more thematic)

  • Exceptionally capable of reasoning
  • Experienced in leading and/or orchestrating groups of people to attain a common goal
  • Arguments are avoided at all costs assuming I can see the advantage in doing so
  • Especially capable of effectively masquerading as different personality types in order to get on someone’s good side if necessary (Don’t know how beneficial it is to reveal this but I’m certainly interested in finding out)
  • Able to keep track of multiple people/things at the same time
  • Strategizing has become one of my strong suits which connects back to my ability to thrive in a leadership role (in spite of the fact that I tend to avoid them)
  • Putting together lists of variables and determining how they might interact with each other in a given environment/scenario.

So, to summarize, video games taught this student:

  • provided character role models and mentors (someone to relate to and look up to). These games have highly developed characters with detailed back stories. Check out these League characters for example.
  • intrapersonal skills: perseverance and resilience, how to take personal responsibility for his actions instead of blaming others.
  • interpersonal skills : leadership skills, negotiating skills
  • a sense of achievement (something more meaningful than say, acing a test on a subject you don’t care about)
  • Strategy: how to take into account multiple factors to tackle a problem (in context problem solving, not overly simplistic questions we often ask on tests)

So the point of this article isn’t to get you to make school more like video games. What we need to do is to create more situations where work together to solve a meaningful problems.  For more ideas, see the previous article on unleashing your student’s inner super hero.

For these students, playing games isn’t a distraction — it’s the lesson.

Read more: www.cbc.ca/1.4654087?cmp=FB_Post_News

Check out Scott Hebert’s Ted Talk here:


CBC: The Great Human Odyssey – Lesson Plans by Tammy Gaudun

The Great Human Odyssey


Lesson Plans


The Great Human Odyssey explores the unlikely survival and the miraculous emergence of Homo sapiens as the world’s only global species. Ancient climate research has revealed that we evolved during the most volatile era since the extinction of the dinosaurs. Just like the many other kinds of human who once shared our world, we should have died away. Instead, our species survived to populate every corner of the planet, against all the odds.

The series is an excellent introduction the the Grade 8 Geography curriculum.  It provides a historical context for many issues addressed in the the Ontario Curriculum, such as:

  1. The ways in which the physical environment and climate change have influenced our earliest ancestors and their settlement patterns.
  2. A look at sustainable communities and the relationship between our ancestors and the environment.
  3. The series raises questions about the quality of life of our ancestors, allowing students to compare and contrast to other communities and times in the world.

Because the documentary series is a reflection of the lives of our ancestors, it is important for students to be able to compare and contrast some of these practices to modern  times, and apply this knowledge to help make predictions about the future of the human species.

This Guide for Educators contains several components. For the three episodes, there are content overviews, viewing questions, and critical thinking questions, a computer-based assignment, which involves three community case studies for the first two episodes.

  1. The Viewing Questions are meant to be answered by students while watching each episode, or in discussion after watching the episode.
  2. The Critical Thinking Challenges are meant to be “big picture” questions that can be posed to students at any point during instruction.
  3. Each episode also contains a Web Component, where students use technology to find maps and to examine one of the three Case Studies, using the interactive World of Extremes website. After watching the series, students are able to participate in a virtual reality experiment, walking in the shoes of Kalahari Bushmen, Chukchi reindeer herders or Badjao free-divers, through the interactive web documentary.

Continue reading

Secret Societies: Codes, Ciphers & Philosophy Activity

Create a Secret Society

Secret societies have existed throughout history for many different reasons: some good, some nefarious!  The goal of this lesson is to a) think about what secret societies exist in our world, which ones do good and which ones to harm (or both), and then create your own GOOD society and come up with your own secret code, cipher or other secret communication. 


Some secret societies were good and necessary. For example, the Underground Railroad used songs and secret codes to allow for slaves to escape to the north where they could be free. They were secret to ensure their safety.

Some secret societies have done harm. However, the KKK for example, promotes white supremacy and are are a secret society because their values are against the law!

Small Group Activity

Brainstorm at least 6-10 secret societies in a T-Chart. What is their secret? Do they exist for good or for evil?  (Templar, Anonymous, Fenians, Illuminati). 



Evil ( harmful)

Underground Railroad – freedom for slaves


Superheroes – justice or vigilantism 

Anonymous – justice or vigilantism

KKK – white supremacy



Class discussion:

Discuss the pros and cons of having a secret club? Is it bad to exclude others? Is it ever okay to exclude others? In what situations? (E.g., Alcoholics Anonymous, survivors of abuse, people with AIDS,  people born with birth anomalies, groups smuggling people out of North Korea, political activists in fascist countries, etc…) Who gets more achieved – secret societies or public institutions?


  1. Mission: Have your students come up with a secret society (they could protect a secret, be a super hero squad of crime fighters, or attempting to escape from something. A secret society must have something or someone to protect.
  2. Code name: How will you refer to yourselves?
  3. Symbolism: What metaphorical symbol would best represent your cause? E.g., dove for peace (have students draw one).
  4. Communication: Students must invent their own code or cipher OR they could also invent secret handshakes, door knocks, clothing (poppy pin, red scarf, yellow watch etc.), ways of answering a phone call, texting,…you get the idea.
  5. Initiation. How will you choose who will belong to the group? What is the initiation? Refer to the class discussion on on exclusion/inclusion? When is it okay to exclude others (e.g., safety concerns) and when is not okay?
  6. Philosophy: What is the slogan or mission statement of your group? What are the only true and just reasons for a secret club to exist? Ensure students don’t start their own private, exclusionary club at school. Most of the time, secrets are bad! Not much good ever grows in the shadows.

Communication Examples

  • Morse Code – a form of communication developed by Samuel F. B. Morse. It uses a series of dots and dashes to relay coded messages. It was originally used to send a telegraph, but is still used today by amateur radio enthusiasts and for distress signals. https://morsecode.scphillips.com/

    Try sending messages with a flashlight!

  • Pig Pen Code: The pigpen cipher is a geometric simple substitution cipher, which exchanges letters for symbols which are fragments of a grid. The example key shows one way the letters can be assigned to the grid.
  • Semaphore:  Semaphore is a cipher system that uses the position of two flags to represent letters. You don’t necessarily need flags; the important piece is the arm position. It’s very similar to positions for the hands of a clock. Semaphore is still an effective method of communication used between boats or for distress signals.https://www.44mlb.com/kids-semaphore.htm
  • Caesar cipher is one of the simplest and most widely known encryption techniques. Decoding depends a lot on frequency analysis with the alphabet.   E! https://www.khanacademy.org/computing/computer-science/cryptography/crypt/p/caesar-cipher-exploration
  • Substitution cipher – instead of a letter, we use a symbol. So, instead of an A, you could write # or %, or any picture. This form of code was used by Mary Queen of Scots when she was plotting against Elizabeth the First. Unfortunately for her, it wasn’t that difficult to decode! Frequency analysis ( math – data! ) ) helps you figure out the most used letters in the alphabet. Sherlock Holmes also used this kind of cipher in his one story The Adventures of The Dancing Men. For a PDF of the full story, click here.
  • Police Letters – 6966786_f520

    The 26 code words are assigned to the 26 letters of the English alphabet in order. Prior to World War I and the development and widespread adoption of two-way radio that supported voice, telephone spelling alphabets were developed to improve communication on low-quality and long-distance telephone circuits.

    This list seems a bit out of date now. How about your students create an up to date version that is gender and culturally neutral?

Resources on Codes & Ciphers

9780763609719_mresA handbook for making and breaking codes and ciphers. This book takes you through everyday codes and pictographs to different ciphers through history. Packed with lots of fun examples, this is a great starting book for a teacher who wants to try out cryptography with his / her students. There are also great ideas for starting a code breaking kit! Suggested for gr. 3 – 8. Priced at $11.60, it’s a deal! Click here to see more.


Lesson by T. Gaudun, resources compiled by M. Reist

Politics & Philosophy / Capitalism vs. Socialism

I teach this as part of a “Shark Tank” learning cycle. It is really good at bringing in politics and philosophy into the classroom.

Note, the videos contain some “classic art” pieces in the background, two of which contain partially clothed people. I say, “pretend you are in a museum.”

Watch the History of Capitalism and make a t-chart of the pros and cons of it:

    • Efficient as there is a much higher level of specialization, so there can be a much higher level of production
    • Higher specialization means people have a narrow, alienating focus on life
    • People at the bottom are exploited
    • good business is good for business
    • Value based on monetary worth and not necessarily on the things that make us happy.

Watch a video on Marxism which does a good job and looking at the ills of capitalism and shows the ideals and shortcomings/impracticality of socialism :

Problems identified with capitalism include

  • modern work is alienating
  • modern work is insecure
  • big gap between rich and poor
  • capitalism is unstable (lots of peaks and crashes)
  • capitalism is bad for capitalists (wealth doesn’t equal happiness or fulfilling lives)
  • Ends with the quote, “Philosophers, until now, have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point is to change it.”

How can kids change it? Learn about politics and voting. 

List the political parties in North American and have students try to plot them from left to right.

  • Left = high taxes and high services
  • Right = low taxes and low services

Talk about the differences between Canada and the USA. What are the biggest differences? E.g., health care (impact of no health insurance (heart attack or premature babies = huge bills) , cost of education and the impact of higher tuition costs, the distribution of wealth, and opportunity.

The American Dream? The Canadian Dream? What should our dream be?

Tell students to ask their parents who they vote for and why.




What are the potential pros and cons of the minimum wage increase?

Intro to Entrepreneurism

This is a scaled down version of a “Shark Tank” learning cycle I do.  It gives you the outline without getting into the specifics. Having done this several times with students, there are a lot of different ways it could go, depending on your timelines. I will often drift into politics, capitalism vs. socialism – which leads into conversations about current events (increase in minimum wage, housing boom, wants vs. needs).

Intro Project

Key Terms

  • Discuss the difference between “Goods” & “Services”
  • Discuss “Supply & Demand”
  • revenue (gross) vs profit (net),


  • With the goal of selling something in the student’s home school, think of a good or service that they could sell for an upcoming event (e.g, Christmas, valentine’s day, graduation).
  • List as many ideas as you can. Split them into goods and services
    • Some samples of what my students have come up with E.g., hot chocolate, open gym, candy canes, valentine’s, school merchandise, movie in library, Stationary Supply in each homeroom available for purchase from teacher. Proceeds go to school.

Warm up activity:

Do this Google Doodle activity. I usually just do the phone as a warm-up activity. What are the problems with current phones (breakable, battery charging, privacy, expensive, disposable, easy to lose) and then design a new phone that fixes the current issues.

google doodle

Next, as a group, brainstorm the problems with grocery shopping. Then show them the video about Amazon Go and how they solved the problem of the long check-out lines. See if they come up with any more ideas to revolutionize shopping.

Finally, watch the video How to be an Entrepreneur by the School of Life and/or “How to Start a Business“.


When you start a business, you need to look at the market in which you are entering. Your task for this element is to analyze your industry (school demographics).

  • Can use SCAMPERto discuss what has been done before, whats worked or hasn’t worked and then tweak to fit the desired event.
  • Supply & Demand: This depends on many factors
    • Demand considerations: E.g., Age, Sex, Local. others?
      • Local (Time and space):  TIME: E.g,. In winter, what types of events would be in higher demand (e.g., indoor events, hot chocolate).  SPACE/Location: what is in scarcer supply in school? Junk food? Computers? Free time?  
      • Sex/Gender: Raffle tickets for a video game might be in higher demand for boys.
      • Age: E.g., Fidget toys might be more popular with kids than teachers.
      • Other?

Project Profitability

How much will each individual item cost? What will you sell it for? How many will you sell? What is your projected revenue? Profit? Costs? 


item cost price profit per item sales Profit Overhead Costs Revenue
Bath bomb $2.75 $5.00 $2.25 200 $450.00 $550.00 $1,000.00
candy canes $0.10 $0.25 $0.15 1000 $150.00 $100.00 $250.00
hot chocolate $0.25 $1.00 $0.75 500 $375.00
pencil $1.00 $2.00 $1.00 25 $25.00 $68.75 $50.00
eraser $1.00 $1.50 $0.50 100 $50.00 $275.00 $150.00

What might your Shark ask?

If the Principal is your “Shark” invite them in to discuss all of their considerations: safety, chaos, mess, teacher time, hall congestion, health, permission forms, etc…The principal will likely ask where the money will be going to (field trips, technology, etc..)

Create a Business Plan  

Now that you know what you’re selling, a successful business needs a plan to follow. Develop a business plan that outlines what your business will do, your staffing needs (labor), your sales and marketing approach and how much start-up financing you will need (how much $$ to start everything). Once you have your business plan, you can follow it to create your successful business and use your business plan to interest investors in your company (aka the “Sharks”)

Questions to answer

  1. Company name
  2. Product name
  3. Product: Are you providing goods or a services?
  4. Who is your target audience (don’t say everybody!)
  5. What words would you associate with your brand?
  6. What would you pay for your product?
  7. Where/how would you sell your product?
  8. What would be some of your expenses as a business (what do you need to buy before you can sell? Would you need a loan from the school?)
  9. Who would you need to hire (set up crew, clean up crew, money counters, teacher supervisor)?

In this case, keep your Principal in mind. What would they consider most important (safety, staffing, lack of chaos, not disrupting the school day, etc…)


How will you get people to know your business exists, how will you market your product/service and advertise it to your target audience?  This could be part of your business plan but if it is not you MUST include some marketing and advertising strategies in this project.

  • Signs, announcements, school Twitter or Facebook pages, school website?
  • How will you make your product seem attractive? Research successful sales techniques and try to implement them (catch phrase, make it seem cool, limited time only, bargain, etc…)

Your Business Proposal  (the Pitch)  

You and your group will be creating a business proposal.  In this proposal you will include all of the elements listed above.  Research what makes a successful business proposal (body language, key phrases, being prepared, enthusiasm, etc…). Be creative & good luck!

Co-create rubric with class

Here’s one idea to get you started: https://www.gallup.unm.edu/pdf/shark-tank.pdf

shark tank rubric

Resources (some places to start)

January’s TRY THIS!

1. Create a new sport for the Olympics

Use SCAMPER to convert an existing Olympic sport into a new one.It might be helpful to start by brainstorming all of the winter Olympic sports you can think of. Then go through the steps of SCAMPER to see what you can come up with.

2. Olympic Questions / Ideas

  • Name ten things that cannot be timed with a stopwatch.
  • How many ways can you make snow?
  • Predict what the Olympic Games will be like in 50 years.
  • List new and unusual uses for an Olympic medal.
  • The answer is athlete. What is the question? ( Have students come up with some of their own similar answers / questions. )
  • Outcome / Reason: The coach ran from the arena before the hockey game was over. What was the reason?
  • What if skates, skis, and snowboards did not exist? (Have students come up with their own “What if” questions.)

3. Improve School

While school is pretty awesome already, there’s always room for improvement. How might you make school or your classroom better? Try creating a T-chart for the parts you like and and the areas you’d like to improve upon. Using SCAMPER, how might you improve upon school? In the end, justify your changes. Why is your version better than the original?

4. Eighth Day of the Week

Have you ever heard someone say, “There are not enough days in the week?” If so, someone is probably commenting on the fact that there is not enough time to do what they want to do, or need to do.

Encourage students to use their imaginations to solve this problem. Pretending there are indeed eight days in the week. This new day would come after Sunday and before Monday.

5. Olympic Values Education Programme

The Olympic Values Education Programme (OVEP) is a series of free and accessible teaching resources that have been created by the IOC. Click here.


Created with Melissa Reist



Literally, the word SCAMPER means “to run playfully about as a child.” But Scamper is also a creative brainstorming technique to help push thinking. It’s a tool that helps students generate ideas, forcing them to look from different perspectives. Use it in your design challenges to help with ideation.

Follow the acronym for an idea-spurring checklist.